Nebraska must have played some Mortal Kombat throughout the week. The Huskers finally finished. (It’s probably only going to get worse from here on out when it comes to the jokes, to be honest.) The Huskers took a 30-5 lead into the halftime break and then the defense absolutely stone-walled the Husky offense.
Nebraska closes out non-conference play with a 2-1 record. It’ll go to Illinois next week to begin Big Ten play. First, here are some thoughts from Saturday’s win.
How Ya Feeling About the Offense?
That’s an honest question.
Because the Huskers were great offensively, rolling up 480 yards at 8.7 a play. But 385 of those came on 14 plays, which means on the other 41 Nebraska averaged 2.3 yards a pop. But the ground game hit for 8 yards a play and Dedrick Mills (116 yards, 11 carries, one score) finally hit those cutback lanes he had been missing and the between-the-tackles stuff looked as though it started to open up. But Nebraska fumbled twice.
(All those numbers were taken from the first-team offense. With just under six-and-a-half minutes left, Nebraska pulled the starters and called off the dogs. Read: garbage time. But, hey, even that in and of itself is a good thing, right? Nebraska finally pushed a game into “garbage time.”)
Sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez kept missing guys running open down the field, but he went for 257 yards, two scores, and maybe most importantly no turnovers.
And he got Kanawai Noa involved. The grad transfer from Cal didn’t have a catch coming into the evening and finished the day with 51 yards and a touchdown on six targets. After a week of talking about getting more wideouts involved, Nebraska backed it up; eight non-tailbacks caught a pass.
It’s not a 50-burger like the Huskers put up a few times in 2018, but the Huskers controlled the game for pretty much the entire evening. That’s something to build on and something to feel good about even if things still look a little disjointed at times. The Huskers had eight three-play drives on the year coming into the game and were only held first-down-less on a drive once.
Oh, and Cameron Jurgens, the Huskers’ redshirt freshman center, was once again completely anonymous on the field, which is to say he did his job pretty well.
Hats to the Ball
The first half was worrisome. Not because of the performance, but because of the usage and what it potentially forecast for the second half. Nebraska’s defense was a week removed from giving up 24 points in a fourth quarter to Colorado in part because it was dead tired.
Against the Huskies, that same defense played 43 snaps. They were great in those 43 snaps, holding the Huskies to 3.3 yards a play and only three offensive points, but what would the cost of all those plays be?
Turns out nothing.
Northern Illinois got a field goal in the second half. That’s it. Three points. The Blackshirts, as far as I’m concerned, officially earned the moniker this week. Give them the alternates next week against Illinois. They deserve it.
A 10-play, 74-yard drive from NIU ended empty because the defensive line stood up the Huskies at the goal line on third down and then walk-on safety Eli Sullivan read a fourth-down roll-out play to the flat absolutely perfectly to break up a would-be touchdown.
Inside linebacker Collin Miller went sprinting toward midfield, let out a scream into the night sky and flexed as Memorial Stadium started to sound like the Memorial Stadium I’ve only heard a few times since joining this beat.
These guys are full-blown dudes, I was thinking at the time.
The run defense entered the game ranked 12th nationally. Nebraska gave up 3.1 yards a play on the ground. Nebraska held NIU 5-for-18 on third down and 2-for-5 on fourth down. It got seven tackles for loss, two sacks, two blocked punts and two turnovers. And it got the starters something maybe more important than any of those numbers: a fourth quarter off.
Win at a Cost
Nebraska was already on its third-string kicker and boy did it show. The Huskers had two field goals blocked and a point-after attempt blocked. Starter Barret Pickering is sorely missed right now. His backup, true freshman walk-on Dylan Jorgensen, is probably missed, too.
And yet the Huskers left the game worse off than they started it.
Sophomore Cam Taylor-Britt, starting at safety for an injured Deontai Williams, left the game with a shoulder injury. Starting left tackle Brenden Jaimes left the game with a lower-body injury, too. Starting running back Maurice Washington left the field in the second half, got some tending to on the sideline right away and never came back.
With Big Ten play on deck, the Huskers are dealing with some potentially significant question marks.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.